Mug reads "controls on immigration: I'm voting Labour"

Oppose scapegoating of migrant workers – unity is strength

Ian Allinson, the grassroots socialist candidate for Unite General Secretary, argues that McCluskey’s fudge on free movement stops him effectively defending members from the damage caused by Coyne’s attack on workers’ rights to free movement and equal treatment.

Gerard Coyne, the right-wing candidate in this election, is all over the press this morning (Independent, Daily Mail) demanding that “taking back control” of borders is a red line in Brexit negotiations, and that this is more important than trade arrangements.

Coyne argues:

“for the many Britons facing insecurity in the job market, who rely on public services such as the NHS and state schools, and who need affordable homes, the presence of a very large number of foreign nationals has added to the pressures they already face at a time of austerity”

This is a disgrace from someone who wants to lead our union. The NHS would collapse without the foreign nationals who work in it, as would many other public services. The housing crisis is not caused by immigration, but by the assault of successive governments (including Coyne’s mates in New Labour) on council housing, leading to an inadquate supply of housing and allowing private landlords to buy up housing stock and raise rents to unaffordable levels. Job insecurity is caused by the gross imbalance of power between workers and employers, helped by the anti-union legislation. Let’s not forget that the Labour right, with whom Coyne is so closely associated, back this legislation. Blair bragged about “the most restrictive union laws in the Western world”.

We should be demanding a positive right to strike, which workers in most other countries enjoy, more effective legislation against discrimination, and stronger rights to collective bargaining, not asking the government to further undermine workers’ rights to travel and work where we please. Coyne’s priorities are 180 degrees against the interests of Unite members.

Coyne’s pitch to voters is irresponsible. The job of a Unite General Secretary is to stand up for all workers, not set them against each other. I live and work in Manchester. Like many others, my experience is of a workplace and a union which includes workers from all over the world. We need to be united if we are to defend our jobs and advance our pay and conditions. Scapegoating immigrants weakens our union and hinders our efforts for jobs, pay and conditions. It is well documented that concerns about immigration are generally strongest in areas with few immigrants. I appeal to those in such areas to show solidarity with those of us organising in more diverse areas, rather than believing the lies in the gutter press.

The tragedy is that Len McCluskey, though an anti-racist, has fudged on the question of free movement, and this makes him unable to effectively defend members against the irresponsible attacks of Coyne and the racist press. I explained in detail in an article for the Guardian how McCluskey’s stance, set out in a speech to the CLASS conference, made too many concessions to the racists and nationalists. By giving an inch, McCluskey has given Coyne the confidence to go a mile. If McCluskey was toying with dog-whistle politics, Coyne is barking himself. When Coyne is attacking workers’ rights to free movement and equal treatment, members can’t afford a fudge. Only my campaign is clearly championing these rights and consistently opposing nationalism and racism. I urge everyone who wants a workforce and membership not divided by racism and nationalism to get involved in my campaign and win this important argument with as many members as possible.

Some in our union need reminding of the wisdom of some old slogans. An injury to one is an injury to all. Divided we fall. Unity is strength. It’s not other workers, wherever they come from, who are responsible for unemployment, bad jobs, inadequate housing or crumbling public services. If we want to win, we have to direct our fire at the government and employers, not each other.